(Editor’s Note: This story was republished in part at Better.net in alignment with a partnership between the two nonprofits: The Record Community News and Make it Better Media Group.)
“New” has become old to Laurent “LT” Therivel.
A retired Marine, Therivel’s professional and personal resumes are bursting with new places, new faces and new experiences that have led him to Glencoe.
But a neck tattoo? That really is a new one.
Therivel sported the mock neck art, as well as a burly handlebar mustache, to disguise himself from his colleagues for the hit CBS show “Undercover Boss.”
“The disguise was really something,” said Therivel, the CEO of UScellular. “They asked me coming in if i had any concerns or no-gos and I just said, ‘Nope. Do whatever you guys think will be the most effective,’ and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
The getup was just a vehicle to a learning experience for Therivel, whose episode of “Undercover Boss” will air on March 4. The show anonymously places executives like Therivel among the company’s workforce and equips them with a costume and backstory to sell the playful grift.
Therivel was born in New York and grew up in Texas before becoming a communications officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Before joining UScellular, he enjoyed a 12-year stint at AT&T and most recently was the CEO of AT&T Mexico out of Mexico City.
With his wife and twin daughters, Therivel moved to Glencoe after he took over as CEO of UScellular in 2020.
Therivel said the “Undercover Boss” contacted UScellular less than a year after he took over as the communications company’s top executive, which was just a couple months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He called it a “no-brainer” to get on board with the show.
“This is a dream job. I love telecoms, I love wireless, but my dream job was not doing it in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “I was kind of in a situation where I was in charge of a company but I didn’t have any opportunity to get out and meet people and see the operations. So this gave me a really unique opportunity to see the operations from the ground up.”
The show then filmed Therivel and UScellular’s episode in the spring of 2021.
As CEO, Therivel oversees close to 6,000 employees of UScellular. In “Undercover Boss,” a disguised Therivel is filmed learning multiple rank-and-file jobs. While he could not give away many details, Therivel said the show uses a “logical” cover story to explain the film crew to the employees.
Going into the experience, Therivel hoped to get an improved perspective on the company’s operations. Whether at a call center or a network site, Therivel thought he could learn of “pain points” in need of relief.
While he gathered information toward that end, Therivel said learning about his associates was of far greater benefit.
“To really positively evolve a company, you really need to understand the starting point. And most people think of the starting point in operational terms,” he said. “What I don’t think is fully appreciated is the starting point culturally: how do people feel about what they do every day, do they believe in the mission of the business, do they believe in the leadership of the company.”
To prepare for filming, Therivel had to first go through 90 minutes of makeup, and at the end of the first day’s makeup session, he said there was a big reveal when he and his family both saw his new look, including the dragon tattoo climbing up his neck.
Therivel was surprised at the complex nature of the filming process, as well, and the resources that were used to make the show happen.
When the show airs, Therivel said he will host a small watch party with family and friends, and he also hopes to do a second watch party with his UScellular colleagues. He ceded that he is nervous to see the final product and hopes the company shines.
More importantly, Therivel said, he wants the people featured in the show to shine. Like all “Undercover Boss” episodes, employees of the subject business, UScellular, become the stars through their conversations with the boss, Therivel.
He said listening to his associates was a special experience that he hopes comes through in the episode.
“The other part that was more challenging than I expected is the emotional impact,” he said. “The show itself follows me … but the stars of the show are the employees. The CEO’s journey is really just the story arc that highlights these individual people and their incredible back stories. … I underestimated the emotional impact of sitting down with someone and hearing about what they’ve been through but doing it under a different pretense. That part was harder than expected.”